Rising from the Ashes

By Bob Nieman, CLA Member posted 10-02-2017 09:14

Alabama Laundry Owner Lends a Helping Hand to Local Nonprofit Recovering from a Fire

community_enabler_fire005.jpgFor a couple of years now, Alabama laundry owner Ken Barrett has been donating unclaimed items from his three vended laundries to Community Enabler Developer, a nonprofit group based in Anniston, Ala.

It’s a local agency that provides food, clothing and utility assistance to the growing number of people in the area who need help – from the newly unemployed to the chronically poor. As Community Enabler Developer CEO Maudine Holloway likes to say, “Sometimes folks need a hand up, not a handout.”

“I first connected with this organization through my accountant, who had worked with them for quite a while,” said Barrett, who owns a laundry in Anniston, as well as operating stores in nearby Oxford and Golden Springs. “We’ve been donating leftover items from our drop-off laundry business there. In fact, we probably donate 20 to 30 comforters a year to them.”

Therefore, in June, when a fire ravaged a good portion of the nonprofit’s thrift store, the laundry owner was over there the following day to see what he could do to help out.

“They really help the people who are just truly lost within society,” Barrett explained. “They’ve been around for a number of years, and they help anyone who walks in. They run a thrift store, and they also have a food pantry where people can come in and just pick up food. They are working with people who simply don’t have any other options.”

The group operates out of an old church, as well as a small two-bedroom house on the property that had been turned in the organization’s thrift store. And the fire within that store caused a tremendous amount of smoke damage, especially to the clothes that were for sale.

“The next day, I dropped by to see if they would let me help them out with the clothes,” Barrett said. “If they can get an insurance check due to the fire, they certainly can put it to a lot better use than cleaning clothes. Ideally, they’d like to take all of the money they may receive and build a brand new building.

“So, at the time, they weren’t sure what to do with the smoke-damaged clothes. I said, ‘Let’s get them cleaned up. I can store them, and we’ll go from there.’”

At 2,400 square feet, Barrett’s newest store – Washin Oxford Coin Laundry – is larger than his other two locations and features plenty of storage space.

“I was just thankful to be in a position where I had the facilities and the equipment to be able to offer it,” Barrett acknowledged. “In my other stores, it would have taken me days to get through it, and it would have been such a headache.

“I collected the clothes from the thrift store, about a load a week, and stored it at the laundry until the time came. Then, we attacked it with a bunch of volunteers, and knocked it all out. We did it on a Wednesday, which is a quiet day. In fact, we were even able to leave a bank of washers and four dryers open for my regular customers.”

Barrett figured out how many people he would need to sort clothes, load washers, transfer items to dryers and then fold. He also accounted for one person to strictly handle the detergent and the money, as well as a couple of “floaters” to handle whatever may be needed. Then, he broke those jobs down into two-hour increments throughout the day.

With about 15 volunteers, many from a local alcohol and drug rehab facility, Barrett and his team washed, dried, folded and bagged 1,782 pounds of sooty, smoke-damaged clothing.

“We were throwing suit jackets into the wash,” Barrett said. “Although they came out looking a bit more ‘relaxed’ and not so crisp, they’re still much better than they were. We even ran a leather jacket through one of my washers.”

Today, 172 loads later, the Community Enabler Developer thrift store has a stock of freshly laundered merchandise for when it reopens.

“In the last year or so, I’ve gotten my business to the point where I can be much more charitable,” Barrett admitted. “Also, over the last several months, I was at the Florida Coin Laundry Association meeting and then at the Clean Show in Las Vegas, talking with other laundry owners, including FCLA President Tom Rhodes. And, up until that point, I guess I didn’t fully understand the CLA’s LaundryCares Foundation.

“But when I spoke with Tom and heard some of the personal stories of other laundry owners who had been involved with LaundryCares and other similar events, I began to understand how much more of an impact I could have. The feel-good stories just don’t end.”

Barrett added that laundry owners shouldn’t be shy about sharing their good deeds.

“As far as marketing, local newspapers and TV are always looking for those kinds of stories,” he explained. “I used my contacts at the local chamber of commerce, and we had a local TV station at the store. Plus, the story got picked up by the local newspaper and online media.”

These days, Barrett said people around town will see him and thank him for helping out after the fire.

“The impact has been more than expected,” he said. “It helps you understand the kind of difference you can make in your own community. It was nice to get to a point in my business to be able to offer that for others.”


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